Family, Kids & Relationships

7 Toddler Behavior Hacks that Make Parenting 10000000% Easier

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Toddlers are adorable, there’s no question. They also harbor a ton of thoughts and emotions that their brains aren’t quite equipped to unpack yet, so when they misbehave, it can get pretty ugly—quick. 

While one size definitely does not fit all when it comes to raising toddlers, there are a few hacks that experts rely on for making life with toddlers way easier. Here’s a peek at seven that address the most common toddler problems, to make your life as a parent much easier.

When your toddler bites, hits, or kicks others…

When children this age act out, it’s usually because they don’t know how to express their feelings the right way—if at all. “It is not enough to tell kids to use words instead of actions,” says licensed clinical social worker Meri Wallace. Most of the time toddlers don’t even know what words to use. But “if you teach your child specific positive phrases to say, you give her the tools to communicate her emotions.” 

Give them specific words and phrases to use when they’re feeling big emotions. That helps them connect how they’re feeling inside with what’s happening, which is the first step toward learning to handle those emotions in a healthy way. For example, when they act out, try saying something like, “You’re angry. When you feel this way, say, ‘I’m angry.’” Bonus: Help explain the root cause of their emotions, such as “You’re angry because that boy didn’t let you have the swing.” 

When they refuse to let you help them…

Lots of kids fight tooth brushing, butt wiping, and anything that generally requires assistance until the skill has been mastered. The next time that happens, try turning the task into a magical adventure. What if—POOF!—you turned them into a snowman who had to get bundled up in a coat and scarf in order to transform into a human child? Or what if you made up a story about a prince trapped in a tower, and you traced the path to freedom with the toothbrush along their teeth as the tale unfolds? You get the idea! Making it an adventure distracts them and encourages cooperation.

When their impatience often leads to a tantrum or whining…

Teach them how to stretch their patience, says Harvey Karp, M.D. the author of The Happiest Toddler on the Block. He suggests asking your child to give you a high-five, then pretend it hurts to earn a giggle. After a few tries, ask again but right before they high-five you, say “wait a second” and pretend to do something else before turning back to say “good job waiting.” The next time, have them wait a few more seconds and repeat the sequence. If there’s a third party around like a sibling or another caregiver, try “gossiping” about your tot’s great ability to wait right in front of them. Each time you praise and stretch out the seconds, you’ll be teaching your toddler the fine art of patience!

When you need them to listen to you…

Use games like Simon Says or Follow the Leader to help your toddler learn to listen and follow directions, says Lauren Tamm of The Military Wife and Mom blog. Add a twist that will pique your child’s interest. For example, maybe instead of Simon Says, your child might prefer Spiderman Says. If it’s around the holidays, you can do “The Mummy Says,” “Turkey Says,” or “Santa Says” suggests Katie Yeh, a pediatric Speech-Language Pathologist who runs the blog Playing With Words 365. Not only is this great practice, but it works in the moment when you need your child to comply, too. “Simon Says walk like a duck” will get your child to follow you through the store much better than repeating, “Come on, stay with me!” a hundred times!

When they’re begging for something… 

Instead of saying no to a snack, a game, or a trip to the park, say yes, but give conditions. Psychologists say that once kids hear the word “no” at the top of the sentence, they break down and automatically become less likely to cooperate. You stand a better chance of avoiding power struggles altogether by explaining that they can certainly have that ice cream—as soon as they pick their toys, for example.

When your tot won’t try new foods…

Fill an ice cube tray with a smorgasbord of colorful foods, including some they already love, and let them explore with their hands and (hopefully) mouth. Putting foods in fun containers can not only make portion sizes feel more manageable for small kids, but gets them looking at mealtime in a new way—which is especially helpful if you’ve had frequent food battles and they associate sitting down at the table or settling into their highchair with digging in for a fight. From cheese cubes to mini meatballs to pretzels, berries, and perhaps even chocolate, seeing foods presented this way puts the fun back into mealtime, turning it into more of a game than a chore.

When they’re so shy they hide from people, even peers…

Toddlers’ minds haven’t yet developed fully, and understandably they’re not entirely sure they can trust the world outside their orbit. In order to help your tot overcome their shyness, role-play common scenarios when playing with your child rather than wait for the moment when they act shy.

For example, if your child likes to play with dolls, create a scenario where an imaginary friend—“Nia,” if you will—steps in and wants to play, too. Show them how you would invite Nia in, and perhaps offer her a peek at your doll. Offer some conversation starters (like introducing yourself, giving a compliment, or asking a question), and show your little one how much fun it is to listen to all the cool things your “pal” has to say (something you’d be relaying out loud, of course). This type of role-playing allows you to walk your child through common scenarios when they’re relaxed and happy instead of at the moment when they’re feeling most vulnerable. 

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The former Content Director at Parenting, and several other brands, Ana Connery is a writer and content strategist whose work appears in USA Today, Reader's Digest, Real Simple, Cafe Mom/The Stir, Momtastic, and others.